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THE   ARTISTIC    LIFE                       2QI
rich men's delicacies, like ducks' feet, lichi, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc. which were delineated with the greatest realism of detail. The sumptuous feast inside was not seen, but only suggested by these left-overs to be thrown into the refuse heap. The conception is therefore everything, on which depends very largely the poetic quality of the work. It is shy of straight portrayal and it always tries to suggest. The constant care of the Chinese artists is: Leave something for the imagination!
Had Chinese painting remained content, however, with the emphasis on "conception/' which is more a matter of the head than of the heart, it would have struck a blind alley, for art, which ought to appeal primarily to our feelings and our senses, would have degenerated into a mathematical pi^zzle or a logical problem. No amount of technical skill or cleverness of intellectual conception can give us great art, if it fails to achieve an atmosphere and evoke in us a sympathetic state of emotion. We see this in all great paintings, whether Chinese or European. The mood is therefore everything. The drawing of two birds alighting on a boat serves merely to suggest the absence of any boatman near by, and that absence can mean nothing to us unless, at the same time, it evokes in us a mood of solitude and desolation. Why should not the boat drift across by the force of the current if it wants to? The picture becomes alive and full of meaning to us only when we feel that the boat would not have drifted across like that if it had not been left alone, and this leads to a reflection on the desolation of the scene which could touch our emotions. Of what avail is it to paint the sign of a wine-shop hidden in a bamboo grove by the bridge unless we are led to imagine the people who might be gathered in that wine-shop, where time hangs heavy and life is' at peace, and men can spend whole afternoons gossiping about the fisherman's rheumatism and the queen's girlhood romance? The evocation of the mood is therefore everything, in painting as in poetry. This leads us to a consideration of "atmosphere," otherwise called "rhythmic vitality/' which has been the highest ideal of Chinese painting for the last fourteen hundred years, since Hsieh Ho first enunciated it and other painters elaborated and discussed and quarrelled over it